A fully transparent face mask designed by UAB’s chief innovation officer can include sensors to monitor the body’s temperature and pulse for early detection of viral infections, such as COVID-19.
The mask design features a clear plastic mouth covering and clear nose barriers, chin barriers and ergonomic looped arms that secure around a wearers’ ear, said Rubin Pillay, Ph.D., who is the chief innovation officer at UAB’s School of Medicine.
Pillay called his design “the world’s first smart mask.”
“We built it on three founding principles: One, it had to be functional. It had to work. It had to either prevent you from infecting somebody or prevent somebody from infecting you,” he said.
“Two, it had to be ergonomic, to fit comfortably because people were going to be using these for prolonged time periods, whether they are health care providers or a kid in a classroom or an airline employee.
And third, it had to aesthetically pleasing.
“The holy grail is to try to identify patients really very early on in the infection cycle,” Pillay said.
The looped design allows the wearer to easily lift the mask without removing it entirely to eat or drink.
Because it is clear, the mask also could be helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on lip-reading to communicate, said Melody Mathews, an audiologist at the Kirklin Clinic of UAB.
Pillay said the initial idea for the mask came from N95 mask inserts, and then it grew into the current design.
Pillay designed the mask to be modular: The basic version includes just the mask itself. For more protection, the wearer can attach N95 filter cushions around the mask barrier for use in a health care setting.
Another modification allows the wearer to swap the mask arms for ones with sensors that monitor temperature and pulse. Data gathered by the masks’ sensors could transform the diagnostic process for viruses.
The modifications for the basic mask will be sold separately, Pillay said, so buyers can customize the mask for their own needs.
The masks are to be produced by a Birmingham firm, Fitz-Thors Engineering.
As mask production begins, Pillay said he hopes initially to distribute them into school and health care systems, with the goal of beginning commercial production soon.